National Enquirer takes aim at Bezos' divorce

Billionaire and Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos finds himself the target of The National Enquirer, which has developed a reputation for going after President Donald Trump's enemies. CNN's Jason Carroll takes a closer look.

Posted: Jan 11, 2019 4:32 PM
Updated: Jan 11, 2019 4:54 PM

A few hours after Jeff Bezos and his wife MacKenzie announced their divorce, the National Enquirer had an announcement of its own.

The Enquirer said it had been investigating Bezos for four months, tracking the Amazon CEO "across five states and 40,000 miles." The tabloid said it had evidence that Bezos has been "whisking his mistress off to exotic destinations on his $65 million private jet."

The Enquirer and other outlets identified the woman as Lauren Sanchez, a former anchor for Fox's local station in Los Angeles.

Representatives for Bezos have had no comment on the reports about Sanchez. CNN has reached out to Sanchez for comment, but has not heard back.

According to the Enquirer, Bezos' lawyer told the publication that it was "widely known" that Bezos and his wife had been "long separated."

But the Enquirer's apparent scoop created a subplot all its own. In a statement on Thursday, the magazine's parent company, American Media Inc., suggested that its investigation prompted Bezos to go public with his divorce plans.

"The National Enquirer has been doggedly investigating this story for four months and the extraordinary details and evidence uncovered by our team, and presented to Mr. Bezos' representatives for comment early this week, underscores the kind of investigative reporting that the publication has long been known for," a spokesman said.

By the looks of the Enquirer's new cover, which is scheduled to hit newsstands Thursday, it was ready to publish a story before Bezos issued a statement on Wednesday morning.

The cover promises to show readers "the cheating photos that ended his marriage" with not one, not two, but "11 pages of exclusive photos."

The tabloid is best known for sensational stories about Hollywood stars, not tech billionaires. Why did the Enquirer decide to pursue Bezos?

Media insiders immediately wondered about a Donald Trump connection, given that the president has repeatedly criticized Amazon as a company and Bezos as an individual. Trump has repeatedly attacked Bezos on Twitter for how his administration is covered by The Washington Post, which Bezos has owned since 2013.

Consider: Trump had a friendly relationship with American Media Inc. boss David Pecker for decades. Pecker worked with Trump and former Trump lawyer Michael Cohen to squash embarrassing stories during the 2016 campaign. At the same time, the tabloid played up positive stories about Trump and negative stories about his opponents on its cover.

After the election, the Trump-Enquirer collaboration continued. There were allegations -- leveled by MSNBC hosts Joe Scarborough and Mika Brzezinski -- that the Enquirer was used as a weapon against Trump critics.

But the partnership visibly ended in April when the FBI raided Cohen's office and subpoenaed records from the Enquirer.

Last August, when Cohen pled guilty to campaign finance violations, he admitted to working with an unnamed media company CEO "at the request of the candidate" to squelch stories. That unnamed CEO is known to be Pecker.

In December, prosecutors announced a non-prosecution agreement with National Enquirer parent company American Media Inc., effectively ruling out charges for the publisher, Pecker, and his top deputy Dylan Howard.

This confirmed that the Enquirer had "flipped" on Trump, so to speak.

According to the agreement, the company is obligated to cooperate with authorities and "disclose all information with respect to the activities of itself and its officers, agents, and employees concerning all matters" investigators inquire about for a period of three years or until prosecutions are completed.

CNN's recent review of the Enquirer's cover stories showed that the tabloid suddenly stopped promoting Trump -- or mentioning him at all -- in April.

This timeline would seem to challenge the theory that the Enquirer is out to get Bezos because Bezos is on Trump's enemies list.

Still, it was notable to see Howard -- the chief content officer for American Media -- sharing one of the bylines on the Enquirer's Bezos story.

Business Insider published a story on Wednesday with a headline that read "The National Enquirer, a longtime ally of President Trump, says it's about to release scandalous photos of Jeff Bezos' alleged affair."

MSNBC's Chris Hayes shared a link to the Enquirer's exclusive on Twitter and said, "Given everything we know about how Pecker's National Enquirer has functioned as essentially an arm of Trumpworld, this prompts some questions."+

A source with ties to the Enquirer offered a different rationale for the reporting effort: "It's fanciful to suggest that the Enquirer pursued this because Bezos is a perceived enemy. It was pursued because he's the world's richest man and a newsworthy subject."

The source said the Enquirer decided to look into Bezos about five months ago. Conversations with sources led to a "specific tip" four months ago, the person said.

A handful of photographers worked with a group of reporters on the investigation, the person added. The tabloid, likely in a bid to sell more copies, is touting this as "the largest investigation in Enquirer history."

Another source, a person familiar with the National Enquirer's operation, also rejected the theory that the Enquirer was trying to help Trump.

"Anyone who knows Dylan Howard knows he is looking to regain credibility. This is his redemption piece after all the recent scandals," the source said.

Trump, who has been divorced twice, was asked about the Bezos news during a Q&A with reporters on Thursday.

"I wish him luck, Trump said. "It's going to be a beauty."

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